Conflict is inevitable in romantic relationships, including ours – we didn’t even agree on how to start writing this article. Allison said we should begin by looking through some booooring research. Adam wanted to make a list of our conflicts and put it out there for readers to judge. Which is a great way to start a fight.

Instead, we chose to compromise and begin with some interesting research from psychologist John Gottman and his Love Lab. To understand what makes for a happy marriage, he videotaped hundreds of couples at various stages of marriage having conversations about their relationships. Then he tracked the couples for years and was able to predict which split up and which stayed together with 90% accuracy.

It wasn’t arguing in itself that predicted whether couples separated. What mattered was how they handled disagreements when they arose. If you show contempt for your partner or resort to name-calling, it doesn’t bode well for your marriage. Among couples who stuck together, both partners took responsibility for their own contributions to the argument, and they even showed affection while fighting.

Like any self-respecting couple with degrees in psychology and psychiatry, we try to apply some of these findings to our marriage – and we think you can do the same for yours.

Lighten the mood with a little humor.
One day we had a difference of opinion about how to handle a contract. After reading it four times, Adam was ready to sign it and be done, while Allison wanted to go through every line in detail – again. But she thought Adam had lost interest, and even if he agreed to look at the document further, she feared he wouldn’t give it his full attention. Allison decided to have some fun by tinkering with one line. The contract stated (inexplicably) that documents containing confidential information could not be left behind or discussed in public places, including elevators, restaurants, and restrooms. She decided to play up the absurdity of this by saying she was very concerned that the list of public places didn’t include gondolas.

The outlandish thought of leaving legal paperwork behind in a gondola got us laughing. That broke the tension before it blew up into something bigger, and we were able to move forward. The joke carried us through the fifth read, and we couldn’t resist including gondolas in the final signed version. Humor can not only temper arguments but also make it more likely that a couple will find mutual understanding. In a classic experiment, pairs of people had to negotiate the price of a painting. When it came time for the seller to make a final offer, one who said “I’ll throw in my pet frog” was more likely to reach common ground with the buyer. This may sound ridiculous, but it’s true, and it applies to partnerships too: The couples who end up staying together are the ones who are able to make jokes even when they’re arguing. Even if you don’t agree on the main point of the argument, you might be able to reach consensus on some aspects of it.

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